It's getting down to the end: if you're still alive, congratulations! If not, then hey, there's always the schadenfreude of rooting against the fantasy player that caused your downfall. (I really do wonder how much Reggie Wayne and Doug Martin have had to hear from angry fantasy owners over the last 36 hours.) It's better than nothing.
Waiver pickups for Week 16 are little bit different than what we've seen the rest of the season. If you're going to pick up a guy this week, you're going to have to expect him to start now. Touches and efficiency are important, of course. But moreso than earlier on in the season, schedule is a crucial factor to take into consideration.
So with that in mind, here are my top five fantasy waiver pickups for this week. It's one less than normal - we're running out of guys to suggest, ok? - but they can certainly help you win your league championship if you're in need of a last-minute replacement.
Top 5 Fantasy Football Waiver Pickups for Week 16
Russell Wilson - Seattle Seahawks
Week 15 Fantasy Points: 41
Leagues Owned: 27.3%
Week 16 Opponent: vs. San Francisco 49ers
What, you were expecting Mark Sanchez? Our Chief Analyst Keith Goldner (recently featured in Forbes!) was sitting shotgun to Bill Simmons on the Russell Wilson bandwagon this past week, and Wilson rewarded him handsomely. 39 standard-league fantasy points later, and Wilson was the week's breakout star.
But can he sustain it? Our analytics say, undoubtedly, yes.
The Seattle Seahawks - the Seahawks! - are the second-most efficient passing offense in the league so far this season, posting 0.29 Net Expected Points (NEP) per pass attempt, a statistic explained in full here. Only the Patriots are more efficient passing, averaging 0.36 NEP per pass attempt. So while Wilson may not put up the most passes in the league - he's only 25th in attempts - the passes he does put up will be extraordinarily efficient. And that's not even counting his running game, where he's averaged 0.32 NEP per rush in his 78 attempts.
That's why we still have confidence in him this week, even against a Niners defense that has allowed 61.28 points less than expectation so far this season. The strength of the San Fran defense lies in the run stopping, as their -66.71 NEP allowed to opposing running games is the best mark in the league. So it may be up to Russell Wilson to save the day for Seattle.
Jackie Battle - San Diego Chargers
Week 15 Fantasy Points: 1
Leagues Owned: 12.8%
Week 16 Opponent: at New York Jets
Ah, late season injuries, always so helpful when you're in a bind. The Underachieving Ryan Mathews - name change pending in the California court system - is now out for the year. That means it's just Jackie Battle, Curtis Brinkley, and the questionable (injury-wise and rushing-wise) Ronnie Brown left in the San Diego backfield. And although Brinkley received the most carries late against the Carolina Panthers, Battle is the guy with the highest-upside for the final two games of the San Diego season.
On the season, Battle has been the running-centric backup to Mathews, while Brown and Brinkley have both been more pass catch-happy backs. Battle has the second-most carries on the team with 57, but Brinkley outpaces him in targets 14 to 10. Thus, it makes sense why Brinkley was in the game after Mathews went down; the Chargers needed pass-catching more than Battle's running after the Panthers went up 21-0 in the first quarter.
But the main reason Battle has the highest upside is his exceptional efficiency. In 57 rushing attempts so far this season, Jackie Battle has 0.02 NEP per rush. Even having a positive average NEP per rush is extremely impressive, as passing is much more efficient than rushing. In fact, only nine backs with at least 50 carries have a positive NEP per rush average, and of those, only Andre Brown, C.J. Spiller, Kendall Hunter, Adrian Peterson, Danny Woodhead, and Justin Forsett have a better average than Battle. Ronnie Brown, meanwhile, has a similar 0.05 NEP per rush this season, albeit with three-fifths of Battle's sample size. And that sample size could be key - Brown has never averaged better than -0.02 NEP per rush in any of his previous seasons.
The matchups through the end of the season should be conducive to the Chargers as well. The Jets this week are numberFire's No. 12 opponent-adjusted defense, but the Raiders in Week 17 are much worse at No. 29. Ronnie Brown potentially cutting into Battle's carries is still a concern, but with little else out there in the running back wires this week, Battle is easily the best option.
Dexter McCluster - Kansas City Chiefs
Week 15 Fantasy Points: 6
Leagues Owned: 6.2%
Week 16 Opponent: vs. Indianapolis Colts
Another week, another McCluster sighting. I advocated for him in this space last week under the basic premise, "Meh, who else does Brady Quinn have to throw to?" And while that may be the least convincing argument since Lance Armstrong circa 2005, it actually turned out to be just right.
McCluster's 10 targets from Quinn were two more than any other receiver owned in less than 50 percent of ESPN leagues (one of the two guys with eight is just below). Those 10 targets were six more than any other Chiefs teammate and represented 31 percent of Brady Quinn's throws. And unlike the other Chiefs receivers, he made those targets count with a 70 percent catch rate. Meanwhile, Jamar Newsome went 1-for-4 in his catch attempts and Jon Baldwin went 0-for-4. Yeah, I'd say Quinn's found his new No. 1 in this Bowe-less landscape.
It's just in time too, because the Indianapolis Colts are next into town. Although the Chiefs couldn't put up any points against the Raiders, the Colts are one of the few teams that should provide an even better opportunity. Ranking overall as numberFire's No. 30 opponent-adjusted defense, Indianapolis's 129.77 NEP allowed over expectation to opposing passing games this season is the single-highest mark in the entire league, directly ahead of Minnesota (118.16), Oakland (114.67), and Jacksonville (109.51).
Brandon Gibson - St. Louis Rams
Week 15 Fantasy Points: 8
Leagues Owned: 13.2%
Week 16 Opponent: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With many passing games beginning to flounder (we're looking at you, Tampa and Minnesota), there are a few that are gaining steam. And one of those is in St. Louis, where Sam Bradford must have spent the past two Mondays massaging his arm after a long day's work. In Week 14 against Buffalo, Bradford had 39 pass attempts, throwing on 59 percent of the Rams' offensive plays. In Week 15, that number increased to 55 pass attempts, throwing on over 75 percent of St. Louis's offensive plays.
And while Bradford himself may not be benefiting fully from the Greatest Show on Turf Renaissance (his completion percentage is too low), one guy reaping all of the benefits is Brandon Gibson. With 17 targets over the past two Rams games combined, Gibson has asserted himself as the definitive number two option in St. Louis alongside Danny Amendola. After Chris Givens' 3-for-10 catching day in Week 14, where Gibson went 6-for-9 in the same game, the Rams coaching staff preferred Gibson to see a majority of the plays in Week 15. And he made them count, with a 6-for-8 catch rate and the team-lead with 76 receiving yards.
While that normally wouldn't be enough to have him be suggested in a normal week, look where St. Louis is headed next: Tampa Bay and their No. 23 opponent-adjusted defense. While other borderline WR2 and flex guys such as Torrey Smith, Michael Crabtree, Sidney Rice, and Larry Fitzgerald all play top ten defenses this week, Gibson and his Rams face off against a Tampa squad that has allowed 100.08 NEP over expectation to opposing passing games this year, the seventh-highest mark in the NFL.
Riley Cooper - Philadelphia Eagles
Week 15 Fantasy Points: 8
Leagues Owned: 0.1%
Week 16 Opponent: vs. Washington Redskins
There's a chance that all four guys on this list are already gone. This is a competitive league you're playing in, after all, and it was a monumental feat to be able to advance to the championship. So if you're looking for a guy who's probably not gone - at least, he isn't in an average of 999 out of 1,000 ESPN fantasy leagues - look no further than the Eagles' new No. 2, Riley Cooper.
Originally just on the field for a large number of plays after DeSean Jackson's season-ending injury, Nick Foles has begun to look Cooper's way more and more over the past two weeks. In Week 14, Cooper's nine targets were third on the team and represented 18 percent of Foles' throws. Week 15, that percentage was even better: Cooper's seven targets (second on the team) represented 23 percent of Foles' throws. Meanwhile, slot receiver Jason Avant fell from 12 targets in Week 14 to four targets in Week 15.
For me, I'll go with the guy who's on the field for a majority of snaps. And he's especially waiver-wire worthy this week because the Washington Redskins this week should provide him with some opportunities. They enter the week with numberFire's No. 19 opponent-adjusted defense and have allowed 77.04 passing NEP over expectation this season. The Giants will be a tougher matchup in Week 17 if he's needed in your league, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Just Missed the Cut:
Ronnie Brown: It's going to be one of those San Diego backs. Why not Zoidberg... err... both?
Mike Tolbert: In a weak running back week, the newly-rediscovered vulture may be one of your best bets if you're in a jam. But his vulture status remains highly tentative.
Alshon Jeffery: Still a solid option in terms of targets, but the Arizona matchup is not a great one.
Guys You Won't See:
Jake Locker: His running ability and his schedule are nice, but only one game above 20 FP shows me that he doesn't have elite, needed-for-playoffs potential.
LaMichael James: Eight carries put to rest the idea of any sort of timeshare in San Francisco with the surprisingly-efficient Kendall Hunter out.
Randy Moss: While I think it's hilarious that he's still somewhat fantasy-relevant, he shouldn't be for you.
Leonard Hankerson: Call me when he catches more than two passes, even if they're both touchdowns.
Who I would pick up this week, in order (No waiver cash suggestion this week, just spend the rest)